It used to be the focal point of our neighborhood. Starting with the construction of the theater in the mid-‘40s, and then the addition of one of the first open-air strip centers in the state a few years later, Casa Linda Shopping Center was a retail destination for decades.

But starting in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and most notably with the closing of the theatre in 1996, Casa Linda began to lose its luster. As more and more people were lured to shopping malls, the strip center’s retail offerings became more pedestrian.

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Developer Mark Miller uses Casa Linda Shopping Center as an example of the area’s decline in pitching his proposed 25-story high-rise condominium, noting that high-end retail has given way to dollar stores and tattoo parlors.

An oft-repeated complaint about the Casa Linda Shopping Center is that the out-of-state owners don’t understand or don’t care about what the people in the surrounding community want from the retail center.

Enter Lake Highlands High School graduate Craig Evans, son of former Dallas Mayor Jack Evans and principal of SC Companies in Dallas. Evans says he is in “serious negotiations” with current Florida-based owner Regency on a contract to purchase the Casa Linda center properties on the northwest, northeast and southeast corners of Garland and Buckner.

He says the neighborhood is picking up steam, making it a perfect environment for a revitalized center.

“It won’t be an overnight deal. It will take some time,” he cautions. “We would spend quite a bit of money but keep the integrity of the architecture. Give it a general facelift. We want it to still look like Casa Linda and hopefully we could fill the vacancies with businesses that the neighborhoods want.”

Mickey Ashmore has been involved with Casa Linda on and off since 1985, and was involved in the purchase of the property by the Hopkins Schaefer company in the early ‘90s.

He says because of neglect, Casa Linda “needs a lot of attention.” Ashmore says a local owner would be in a better position to devote that kind of attention to the project, but it would still be a challenge.

Turning Casa Linda around, Ashmore says, could include some redevelopment and possible rezoning to allow big-box retail.

“It’s going to be a challenge. There is a lot of space there, and with the advent of large box users, some of that space will be more difficult to lease.”

It would seem that the neighborhood has become a hot property of late – at least in theory. Miller’s talking about his high-rise condominium, a perpetual letter of intent has been hanging over the theatre for a year, and now Casa Linda is looking attractive to developers again.

Longtime Realtor and neighborhood resident Dick Clements says it was just a matter of time before development started moving this way.

“For years, University Park and Highland Park was the place to live. Property got so expensive in the Park Cities that it moved toward Lakewood. Now, suddenly, the next big thing is Forest Hills. Casa Linda has always been a good market, but now it’s really starting to pick up.”

He cites as proof the neighborhood’s 1,000- and 1,500-square-foot houses selling for $200,000. A revitalized Casa Linda Shopping Center could push those prices even higher.

At the moment this is all speculation, but Evans is cautiously optimistic his deal will go through. If so, an announcement could come as soon as the first of the year.

“I just hope we have a chance to purchase it. It could be fun if we end up doing it.”